WOMEN EMPOWERMENT AND POVERTY ALLEVIATION OF RURAL WOMEN IN NSUKKA EDUCATION ZONE OF ENUGU STATE

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     CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

Background of the Study

            In many countries of the world, there exist major inequalities between men and women in all aspects of life such as employment opportunities, political participation and education, power-sharing among others. These inequalities seem to have subjected women to exploitation even in sexual relationship between couples. Women are marginalized in politics, in employment and even in matters related to decision making. In the traditional society, women are made to till the farmland, fetch water and firewood for the family, hew the wood, cook the food, and take care of the children. In fact, in most families now, women are the breadwinners which bestow very many responsibilities on them. This has led to various problems among the women folk, such as different ailments, and maternal mortality due to hard labour during pregnancy, poverty, forced marriage or underage marriage among others

Globally, women are more than half of the world’s population and they are saddled with a lot of responsibilities in the family and the society at large yet are systematically denied the resources, information and freedom of action they need to fulfill these responsibilities. Two-third (2/3) of the world’s illiterates are females, also of the millions of school age children not in school, the majority are girls (Abiola, 2005). Beside, the current world food price crisis is having a server impact on women. Millions of people around the world eat two to three times a day, but a significant percentage of women eat only once (Alazi, 2006).The author, further stated that in many rural communities in the West African sub region, many women deny themselves one or two square meals to ensure that their children are fed hence, the need for empowerment to ensure sustainable and good standard living condition.

Empowerment is the ability to take effective control of oneself or one’s life in terms of being well informed and equipped with education, finance, and other relevant skills. It is also the ability to take decisions and to act on such decisions without any external hindrances (Urom, 2002). Supporting the above point, Okpoko (2002) stated that empowerment is a term which has its root in power. Stressing further, Okpoko maintained that to empower means to give power or authority to enable a person to take decision by himself. Empowerment implies that the person being empowered has hitherto lacked power or authority, either by default or denial. In the context of this study, empowerment can be defined as the ability to take decision and act on it without hindrance due to the support gained by an individual. Empowerment can either be individuals or collective, it becomes collective if the enablement affects a group as a whole, for example the women folk.

A woman is an adult human being; the term woman is also sometimes used to identify a female human regardless of age (Louis, 2011). Buttressing further, the author stated that, womanhood is the period in female life after she has transited from girlhood to womanhood and that many cultures have rites of passage to symbolize a woman’s coming of age, such as confirmation among Christians, the custom of special celebration or a special birthday, generally between the ages of twelve and twenty-one years for a woman which necessitates a period of empowerment.  Aleke (2003) stated that women empowerment is the process of investing in women; a concept which combines human welfare with human capital approach at the beginning of the economic development process, which encompasses nutrition, health and education.

Women empowerment involves making women active to have fair and appropriate access to control of resources and equity to be aware of their ability to participate fully in decision-making (Ugwu, 2008). According to the author, women

all over the world have reached the stage where they would be recognized in all spheres of life. In the context of this work, women empowerment can be perceived as a situation where by women are given all the necessary opportunities and enablement to participate actively in matters that affect women and involve in making decision relevant for women’s survival and existence.

The importance of women has been seen from the women’s roles as managers of homes. Peace and stability of homes depends largely on the managerial ability of women folk (Oluopaje, 2000). The author stressed further that women, especially the mothers plan, organize, direct and co-ordinate all the resources of the home both human and materials resources to the benefit of all the members of the family including their husbands. Effective management of the home promotes national development and as well leads to poverty alleviation. Whenever this is lacking, the country is usually at a disadvantage. Justifying the above assertion, Egunjobi (2005) opined that women empowerment is the key change agent and essential element to achieve the end of hunger and poverty. Over three to four decades ago, women folk in Nsukka Education Zone had been empowered in their own capacity.  During the above mentioned decades, women had the authority to protest against any harsh condition placed against them. The women did this by forming a group to sing some humiliating songs to men who maltreated their wives, desisting from cooking, refusing their husband having sex with them, not going to the market and farm  among others. These were empowerment strategies that women used to fight for their rights and protest against the ills of the society such as caring for the first wife by the husband more than the second wife. The rights to rear domestic animals, vegetable, cereal crops and cultivate cocoyam which is the second high ranking farm product in Igbo land were entrusted to the women folk.

Women were engaged in programmes such as Better Life for Rural Women (BLRW) initiated by Mrs. Mariam Babangida and Mrs. Sani Abacha’s Family Support Programme (FSP). These programmes also tried to introduce a gender element into anti-poverty programmes, acting on the assumption that women needed a special treatment in the light of their immense contributions to the national economy, both as small scale entrepreneurs and home keepers (Igbuzor, 2005).  Obviously, when women are supported and empowered, the entire society will benefit and the people of such society will be healthier, more children will go to school, agricultural productivity will improve, incomes will increase and communities will become more resilient (Egunjobi, 2005). When the children and the women are well provided for through empowerment, the society will automatically be transformed for better because the women and the children are the foundations on which the society is based (Kebeer, 2001). Women empowerment could be seen as key catalyst and essential elements to achieve a society free of hunger and poverty.

poverty as the situation of material and non-material deprivation which is mainly represented by food shortage, poor or lack of health services, lack of education as well as lack of basic physical and psychological needs (Ovute,2003). In line with the above idea, (Onah (2003) stated that Poverty is the lack of means of satisfying a person’s basic needs for nutrition, housing, clothing and other essentials of life such as food, water, health services and learning to work.  In the context of this study, poverty can be defined as the failure to meet the basic needs and requirements of life such as food, water, housing, and clothing among others. Ugwu (2003) stated that since human history, every type of government and every type of economic and social system has tried to alleviate poverty without success. In spite of such progress in such areas like science, technology, industries and medicine, among others, poverty is still on the increase especially in developing countries.

Poverty level in Nigeria remains significant despite high economic growth. Nigeria has one of the world’s economic growth rates (averaging 7.4% over the last decade), with a promising economy and plenty of natural resources such as oil, yet retains a high level of poverty, with 63% living on less than one hundred and fifty Naira (N 150) per day which implies a decline in equality (Akintola & Yusuff, 2001). Poverty is caused by several factors in most developing countries including Nigeria. According to Ugwu (2003), the chief causes of poverty in Nigeria are war, persecution, drought, oppression, accidents, sickness, the death of a breadwinner, laziness, drunkenness, gambling and various forms of bad habits. Poverty leads to homelessness, sickness, robbery, kidnapping, terrorism, prostitution, trafficking and malnutrition which can sometimes lead to death hence the need for poverty alleviation initiatives and projects.

From the foregoing, one can ask, what are the efforts so far made by the past and the present government to empower and alleviate poverty among rural women? Poverty alleviation is the effort made by both the government and other well meaning individuals in the society to reduce the level of poverty of the indigenes of a nation to its minimal state (Narayan, 2002). Contributing to the assertion, Onah (2003) opined that poverty alleviation is the process whereby policy statements and efforts are made to improve the conditions of living of the individuals classified as poor Buttressing further, the author maintained that some of the tools that can be used for poverty alleviation include policy process for the identification of the poor, creating job opportunities for the poor and payment of the allowances to the unemployed among others. In the context of this work, poverty alleviation can also be seen as poverty reduction or eradication which is an attempt made by private or corporate organizations to improve the well being of members of the society in order to reduce their poverty level.

In a bid to overcome poverty in Nigeria, government has initiated different policies and structural programmes from 1972 till date (Igbuzor, 2005). The programmes according to the author include: Food National Accelerated Production Programme (NAFPP) in 1972 by General Yakubu Gowon, Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1977 by Olusegu Obasanjo. Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) in 1979 by General Olusegun Obasanjo, Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) in 1986 by Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, National Directorate of Employment (NDE) in 1986 by Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Better Life Programme (BLP) in 1987 by Mrs. Mariam Babangida, Family Support Programme (FSP) in 1994 by Mrs. Mariam Sani Abacha, Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP) in 1998 by General Sanni Abacha, Universal Basic Education (UBE) in 1999 by Olusegu Obasanjo for children of school age to have free access to education both males and females, National Economic Empowerment and Development strategy (NEEDS) in the year 2004 by Olusegun Obasanjo.

The aims of the above programmes are to reduce the suffering of the people by empowering the people and providing employment opportunities and access to credit facilities such as long and short term loans. The aim of the credit facilities are to enable them establish their own businesses.  Unfortunately, most of these poverty alleviation programmes suffered the same fate as a recent government assessment showed that they all failed due to the fact that, they are characterized by corruption on the part of some government official and public servants (Igbuzor, 2005). This is true because most of these programmes were initiated by Nigerian military heads of state who always suspend the constitution thereby leaving the already formulated policies unachieved. Even though the government tried to initiate the aforementioned programmes with glittering promises, the fact remains that it is one thing to initiate a programme yet it is another to implement the programme which has been initiated. From the foregoing, it could be seen that the above initiated programmes failed to actualize the rationale for its creation and this scenario makes it pertinent to emphasize that for any programme to achieve its purpose in Nigeria, it must be free from corruption, misappropriation fund and embezzlement which has drastically affected the former programmes.

Apart from the above highlighted failed poverty alleviation and empowerment programmes engaged by the women in the past, there are also skill acquisition programmes sited currently, at Ejuona-Aku, along Nze road in Igbo-Etiti local government area of Enugu State. In this programme, women are learning how to make dresses, produce detergents, make hairs, engage in computer training and computer repairing, processing of garri, soya milk and powder, castor oil and palm oil among others. This is to empower women which will bring drastic alleviation of poverty. Moreover, women in Igbo-Etiti, Nsukka, Uzo-uwani, Udenu, Igbo-Eze North and Igbo-Eze south local government areas in Nsukka Education zone of Enugu state also engaged in a stressful and hard labour such as manual procession of oil palm, castor oil, garri and  carrying of large quantity of fire wood on their heads. In these areas, the rural women go about all their businesses such as farm, market, rivers/streams and their various women wings associations by trekking long distances. These rural women engaged in these activities to meet up with the financial demands and other resources needed by the family for survival. These labourious activities often deteriorate their health condition and sometimes result to sickness.

The suffering of these women sometimes affects their children as well. This is because in the rural areas, most of the households are characterized by polygamous families with many children, and these rural women are often burdened with the responsibilities of catering for the needs of the family which otherwise cannot be solved by them alone and rather cause large scores of their girl children dropping out of school and engaging in early or forced marriage (Omoju,2010) The impact of this condition may continue to be with women for many years to come if not addressed through poverty alleviation programmes that aimed at empowering women. From the foregoing, it could be deduced that if efforts are made towards achievable poverty alleviation programmes free corruption, embezzlement and misappropriation on the part of the implementers, then the women would be able to establish their own business and as such become empowered and independence of themselves.

Empowered women play crucial roles in the rural economy including agriculture, livestock, and cottage industries. They play far more active role in the rural economy than is generally believe. Women undertake a wide range of activities both in the field and at home. In the production cycle, in the harvesting and post harvesting phase their participation is very high. (Shakira, Bukhari, Jahangir & Achakzai, 2005). Home based post harvest operations such as drying, cleaning, and storage of grains are almost exclusively carried out by women. Women contribution is also significant in seed preparation, collecting farm yard manure, weeding, harvesting, and various other farm operations (Eya, 2002).  Stressing further, the author stated that women involvement towards looking after the livestock and poultry is remarkable since they take primary responsibility for cutting fodder, cleaning sheds, processing of animal products and care of sick animals. Again the author also posited that women look after the herds, do the milking, collect wool, spin it and make bi-products, and are also involved in weaving and so on. Besides the above mentioned economic activities on direct income generating, many women are engaged in rural non-farm economic activities like handicrafts, embroidery, quilt making, wool spinning, and tailoring among others.

Irrespective of the above roles  women played, there are some factors  that hinder  women empowerment in rural areas in Nsukka Education Zone and  such factors  include; gender disparity, illiteracy, cultural factors, economic factors, biological characteristics inferiority complex among others which equally militate against some strategies that could enhance the empowerment of women for poverty reduction in rural areas.  Contributing to the strategies for women empowerment and poverty reduction, Ndu (2002) asserted that education is a veritable instrument in bringing about positive changes in the pattern of life of the people (including women). Buttressing further, Ndu noted that investment in people’s health and education does not only improve their well being but improves their human capital stock thereby enhancing individual and national productivity and income. It is an important element for poverty alleviation. This is because improving the productive of labour through investment in education, health and improved nutrition are key components of strategies to alleviate poverty.

Statement of the Problem

In many countries of the world, there exist major inequalities between men and women in all aspects of life such as employment opportunities, political participation, education and power-sharing among others. These inequalities seem to have subjected women to exploitation even in sexual relationship between couples. Women are marginalized in politics, in employment and even in matters related to decision making (Unduing,2004). In the traditional society, women are made to till the farmland, fetch water and firewood for the family, hew the wood, cook the food, and take care of the children. In fact, in most families now, women are the breadwinners which bestow very many responsibilities on them. This has led to various problems among the women folk, including sexually transmitted disease, different ailments, and maternal mortality due to hard labour during pregnancy, poverty, forced marriage or underage marriage among others. In Igbo-Etiti and Nsukka local government areas. the case is not different; women are saddled with a lot of responsibilities such as child bearing, child caring, home keeping or management among others. It may not be an exaggeration to state here that the Nsukka Education Zone rural economy  as well as its Urban food security are largely sustained by the rural women .Those women are engaged in the areas of land preparation for farming, planting of crops  and  vegetables for household consumptions and commercial purposes, processing of harvested crops and storage, transportation of harvested products by head portage, keeping of goats, sheep and chicken, among others for home and commercial consumptions, processing of palm oil, castor oil, garri, carrying of concrete as casual labourers at building  sites, production and movement of food stuffs from market to market among others. The most unfortunate thing is that those works are manually done.  As a result,there is the need to empower women, especially rural women in Igbo-Etiti and Nsukka local government areas through education and skills acquisition in different fields so that their poverty level will be reduced and the women will be able to overcome the challenges mentioned above. This will also enable them to improve their dignity and that of their families.

Various governments in Nigeria have initiated programmes that are aimed at alleviating poverty in Nigeria by empowering Nigerians especially among rural women but the researcher is not certain of the efficacy of the previous efforts hence the problem of this study is to ascertain the impact of these programmes initiated by those various governments in Nigeria on Nigerians especially rural women in Nsukka Education Zone of Enugu State.

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